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El SALVADOR: No safe haven for LGBT people

Strengthen protections, end asylum pact with US.

 

By Neela Ghoshal

 

HRW (08.01.2021) – https://bit.ly/3qkN5ZV – Salvadoran president Nayib Bukele agreed on December 15 to implement an Asylum Cooperative Agreement with the US government. It allows US immigration authorities to transfer non-Salvadoran asylum seekers to El Salvador, instead of allowing them to seek asylum in the US.

 

US President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to terminate the deeply flawed agreement, a deeply flawed deal that presupposes El Salvador can provide a full and fair asylum procedure and protect refugees. But for some groups, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, El Salvador provides no safe haven. Its own LGBT citizens lack protection from violence and discrimination.

 

A recent Human Rights Watch report confirms the Salvadoran government’s own acknowledgment that LGBT people face “torture, inhuman or degrading treatment, excessive use of force, illegal and arbitrary arrests and other forms of abuse, much of it committed by public security agents.” Social and economic marginalization further increase the risk of violence. Many LGBT people flee from home.

 

Between January 2007 and November 2017, over 1,200 Salvadorans sought asylum in the US due to fear of persecution for their sexual orientation or gender identity. In a groundbreaking judgment, a UK court recently granted asylum to a non-binary Salvadoran, finding that their gender expression exposed them to police violence and daily abuse and degradation.

 

Five years ago, El Salvador seemed poised to champion LGBT rights. It joined the UN LGBTI Core Group. It increased sentences for bias-motivated crimes. Its Sexual Diversity Directorate trained public servants and monitored government policies for LGBT inclusiveness.

 

Bukele, then a local official, pledged to be “on the right side of history” on LGBT rights. When he ran for president, his promises dissolved. He opposed marriage equality, effectively shut down the government’s sexual diversity work, and refused to support legal gender recognition for trans people. Despite the landmark conviction of three police officers in July for killing a trans woman, violence remains commonplace, and justice out of reach, for many LGBT people.

 

The Salvadoran government should back a gender identity law and comprehensive civil non-discrimination legislation, prosecute anti-LGBT hate crimes, and reestablish a well-resourced office to promote inclusion and eradicate anti-LGBT violence. It should axe the Asylum Cooperative Agreement.

 

As things stand, El Salvador fails to provide effective protection to its own LGBT citizens, let alone LGBT people fleeing persecution elsewhere.

Photo: A transgender woman shows a photograph of Camila Díaz, whom she met while migrating to the US, where they both turned themselves in to immigration authorities. Both women were eventually deported. © 2020 AP Photo/Salvador Melendez.





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Call to the EU: “Assist Belarusians Seeking Democracy and Human Rights. Do more”

  • Reform movement facing crushing regime violence
  • THE EU AND ITS MEMBER STATES NEED TO DO MORE, The Forum for Religious Freedom-Europe and Human Rights Without Frontiers say.
  • Other NGOs requested to join their call to the EU. Send an email to secretariat.brussels@hrwf.org with the sentence

”BELARUS: THE EU AND ITS MEMBER STATES NEED TO DO MORE, I SUPPORT”

 

FOREF/ HRWF (20.11.2020) – Two international human rights organizations appealed to authorities in the European Union and the United States to assist the pro-democracy movement in Belarus, which they said was being “subjected to increasingly harsh brutality by the dictatorial regime of Aliaksandr Lukashenka.”

 

“The citizens and leaders of democracies cannot allow security, police and prison officials of a European country to ruthlessly detain, torture and even beat to death peaceful demonstrators who want nothing more than the internationally-guaranteed right to a free and fair election,” wrote the Forum for Religious Freedom–Europe and Human Rights Without Frontiers.

 

“They must do whatever it takes to convince Lukashenka, and those who support him from abroad, to listen to and respect the Belarusian people’s demand to embark on needed political reforms, starting with a new, honest election.”

 

Since protests began in August, massive numbers of Belarusians from all walks of life have been arbitrarily detained, ill-treated, jailed or fined.

 

The OMON, or Special Purpose Police Force under the Ministry of Internal Affairs, assisted by police troops and even civilian regime employees have become more and more savage. Eventually, six young men have been killed, of whom at least two were beaten to death in the street or right outside their homes. It is believed that Lukashenka himself gave strict orders to use all means necessary to make the protests stop, thus sanctioning unrestricted violence.

 

According to the Viasna Human Rights Center, an independent monitoring group  (http://spring96.org/en), as of 15 November, 25,800 persons had been detained; on 15 November alone, 1,127 persons were detained. Approximately 24,000 of those detained had been sentenced to short prison terms (»administrative arrests«) for up to 15 days and/or fined. The state has initiated approximately 900 criminal cases against protestors. Hundreds have already been tried and sentenced to years in prison.

 

More than four thousand (4,000) complaints about torture and other grave abuses by the police and prison staff have been filed. Not one was investigated. Lukashenka told the country’s prosecutors on 9 September that, in times like these, “We don’t care about the law.” (https://nashaniva.by/?c=ar&i=258800&lang=ru)

 

But as violence against peaceful demonstrators has increased, international attention has decreased, a vector that serves repression not only in Belarus, but in other autocratic lands as well.  With the integrity of democracies, and indeed democracy itself on the line, robust support for the reform movement is of utmost urgency. While Lithuania and Poland strongly support the Belarusan movement against the dictatorship, Western governments and the EU need to do more.

 

 

Background:  One Stolen Election Too Far

 

For 26 years, Belarus (population: 9.8 million) has been ruled with an iron fist by Aliaksandr Lukashenka, who has kept many Soviet institutions (including the KGB) and an essentially Soviet economic system in place. For many years Belarus has had no forceful opposition, since those who could have threatened the president’s position have disappeared or been forced into exile in the late 1990s.

 

The country has been able to survive economically by maintaining strong ties with Russia, which has in effect subsidized Belarus’ economy and thus kept the president in power.

 

Elected in 1994, former state farm manager Lukashenka held a referendum in 1995, after which Soviet symbols were resurrected; Belarus is the only post-Soviet state that has kept the former Soviet flag and coat of arms. The referendum also effectively ensured that the national language, as during Soviet times, retained an inferior status vis-a-vis Russian.

 

In 1996, Lukashenka held a second, fraudulent referendum, which gave him literally unlimited, powers. Every official in government, the health system, the education and cultural institutions, in industry, military, police, and even the courts is appointed by Lukashenka, making him a bona-fide dictator. He openly refers to himself as the people’s »Daddy,« to whom all are indebted.  Lukashenka has built up a large security apparatus to repress freedom and change. The police, especially the riot police (OMON) and the internal security forces (the armed forces of the Ministry of the Interior) are very large in size and also armed and equipped as if the country were facing an imminent danger of a major civil war.

 

Lukashenka was reelected five times, each time claiming a larger percentage of the electorate than the previous one. In the run-up to the election on 9 August 2020, as expected, all potential serious competitors were sentenced to lengthy jail terms.  But then these candidates’ wives registered themselves as candidates, a strategy not seen as a serious threat to Lukashenka’s continued rule, because the candidates were women.

 

In the event, the opposition rallied behind one candidate, Sviatlana Cihanouskaya. The day following the election, the Central Electoral Commission announced that Lukashenka had won with 80 percent of the votes, a Soviet-like margin, which only reinforced the conviction of a majority that fair elections, and democracy itself, do not exist in Belarus.

 

Hundreds of thousands of voters, assisted by the »Golos« (Vote) website (https://belarus2020.org/home), which was able to produce statistically significant data, immediately reacted; large crowds, most of them women, took to the streets to protest this gross injustice, demanding Lukashenka’s resignation, as well as fresh, honest elections.

 

Since that time, marches of similar size have shaken the capital city of Miensk. They have been mirrored in all towns and even villages. The largest protest march was on 23 August with approximately 250,000 people taking part (www.DW.com).  Almost the same number was again achieved on 25 October (www.RFERL.org ), the day after the president-elect, Sviatlana Cihanouskaya, presented the regime with an ultimatum to leave or face countrywide strikes and civil disobedience.

 

Numerous workers at large and small government owned industries went on strike, in spite of threats of dismissal and even criminal charges. These strikes, and also »work slow« or »work by the rules« actions, present a real danger to the regime, given its chronic economic weaknesses.

 

Unprecedented are the marches of senior citizens, with tens of thousands of participants, the marches of grandmothers, and those of women and girls. The latter, in order to avoid being beaten or detained, began walking in small numbers carrying flowers rather than traditional white-red-white flags or dresses in those colors.

 

Also remarkable were the marches of disabled persons and their caregivers. Disabled people (e.g. in wheelchairs) are a rare sight in Belarusan streets, but now they, too, wanted to do express their desire to live in a free society.

 

The OMON arrested hundreds of participants at the large Sunday marches, and kept them in police lockups and pre-trial detention facilities (SIZO). The first wave of prisoners were tortured and kept in inhuman conditions. They were beaten with batons and kicked with heavy boots, insulted and humiliated. They were kept in cells overfilled to 4-8 times their regular capacity, and denied drinking water and sanitary facilities. Their families were denied information about their whereabouts.

 

One of the most famous cases was that of a woman basketball player, Yelena Leuchanka. She was eventually released and described the conditions in the prison: 19 women in a six-cot cell were deprived of matrasses. The sewage was cut off. She had a chance to meet the warden and asked what the reason was for making the lives of the detainees miserable, and who had given that order. The  warden replied that he had given the order himself, to make sure that the detainees for the future refrain from actions that would send them back to prison. (https://charter97.org/ru/news/2020/10/31/399039/)

 

Yet, the huge marches have continued unabated, while the number of arrests and detentions has increased. There were more and more »security« forces deployed in the streets. Most of them wear black SWAT uniforms with no identification marks. All wear balaclavas to mask their identity. Eventually, water canons, some with orange-colored water,  were employed. Scores of overfilled police busses took those arrested to the detention facilities, in which conditions have gradually worsened. Hundreds of relatives stood for hours on end in lines at the prison gate to give food and essential hygiene wares to their jailed loved ones.

 

All categories of citizens have protested in the streets. Many of those who held important functions in society like physicians, university professors, lawyers, journalists, musicians, and top athletes were detained. Their sin: having taken part in an »unauthorized mass event« or »carrying unauthorized symbols« (meaning the traditional white-red-white flag). Some have been even arrested for gathering in their court yards to listen to music and sing and dance.

 

For more information:

 

Dr. Aaron Rhodes, President, FOREF – aaronarhodes@gmail.com

Mr Peter Zoehrer, Executive Director, FOREF – office@foref-europe.org, Phone: +43 (0)6645238794

Mr. Willy Fautre, Director, HRWF – w.fautre@hrwf.org





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LGBT+ candidates score series of historic wins in U.S. elections

Record numbers of LGBT+ candidates are standing in the US elections and early results suggest historic wins across the country.

 

By Hugo Greenhalgh

 

Thomson Reuters Foundation (04.11.2020) – https://bit.ly/35kNK6f – LGBT+ candidates scored a series of historic wins in the U.S. elections, including Sarah McBride becoming the first openly transgender person to win a State Senate seat.

 

At least 117 of a record 574 LGBT+ candidates on the ballot had won at the time of publication, nine of them trans, according to the LGBTQ Victory Fund, which backs LGBT+ candidates.

 

“It’s a huge milestone for members of the LGBTQ community,” said Stephanie Byers, who became the country’s first trans Native American state legislator in the Kansas House of Representatives.

 

“Gender is no longer the only thing that someone sees when we run for office … they also realise that we run more broadly, not just on LGBT issues,” the 57-year-old retired music teacher told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

 

While data on other LGBT+ candidates is still emerging, other victors included Ritchie Torres and Mondaire Jones, respectively the first out gay Afro-Latino and Black men elected to Congress.

 

“Tonight’s wins for LGBTQ people of colour and transgender Americans across the country are historic and long overdue,” said Sarah Kate Ellis, president of the LGBT+ rights organisation GLAAD, in a statement.

 

“Their victories represent a leap forward for LGBTQ acceptance and a demand for more of the progress and equality that their very presence demonstrates.”

 

Outstanding victory

 

McBride, who became the first trans person to address a major party convention when she spoke at the Democrat National Convention in 2016, is the country’s highest ranking openly trans official after winning the Delaware State Senate race.

 

The 30-year-old tweeted that she hoped her victory “shows an LGBTQ kid that our democracy is big enough for them, too”.

 

Veteran human rights campaigner, Peter Tatchell, who last year travelled with McBride to Australia and New Zealand, said her election marked “an outstanding victory for trans people”.

 

Other landmark victories included Mauree Turner, who identifies as non-binary, or as neither male or female, and became Oklahoma’s first Muslim state representative, according to the LGBTQ Victory Fund.

 

“Conversion therapy and trans students not getting the opportunity to play the sport that they would like to play … that’s the type of things that we’re combatting when we show up,” said 27-year-old Turner in an interview on Wednesday.

 

Michele Rayner became the first Black openly LGBT+ woman to be elected to Florida’s state legislature, while Shevrin Jones became the state’s first Black LGBT+ state senator. Georgia got its first openly LGBT+ state legislator, Kim Jackson.

 

“Having visible LGBTQ people in positions of political power is crucial to ensuring that LGBTQ people across America are championed,” said Eloise Stonborough, associate director of policy and research at Stonewall, Europe’s largest LGBT+ organisation.

 

Queer siblings

 

A National Election Pool exit poll conducted by Edison Research indicated that LGBT+ voters represent 7% of the 2020 electorate, higher than the estimated 4.5% of the adult population.

 

LGBT+ voters made up 6% of the electorate in the 2018 midterm elections, and 5% in the 2016 presidential elections.

 

“The more of us that run, the better,” said Jabari Brisport, a newly elected New York state senator and the state’s first openly LGBT+ Black lawmaker.

 

“We have to keep pushing and open the door wider and wider for more of our queer siblings to enter politics as well and fight for an agenda that uplifts us as equal citizens like everyone else.”

 

As the 2020 presidential election result teetered on a knife edge, with millions of votes still uncounted, LGBT+ rights groups said the early wins showed the growing political importance of the community.

 

“Over the last three elections, the share of LGBTQ voters has continued to increase, solidifying our community as a key rising constituency that politicians must court,” Human Rights Campaign (HRC) president Alphonso David said in a statement.

 

“Our issues matter, our votes matter and politicians around the country have taken notice.”

 

Alan Wardle, director of the Global Equality Caucus, a network of LGBT-supporting parliamentarians around the world, said the elected representatives sent out “a strong signal that LGBT+ people belong in public life”.





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‘I won’t be the last’: Kamala Harris, first woman elected US vice-president, accepts place in history

With victory speech, California senator brings tears to eyes of crowd in Delaware.

 

By Lauren Gambino

 

The Guardian (08.11.2020) – https://bit.ly/2Ie65cw – Kamala Harris accepted her place in history on Saturday night with a speech honoring the women who she said “paved the way for this moment tonight”, when the daughter of Jamaican and Indian immigrants would stand before the nation as the vice-president-elect of the United States.

 

With her ascension to the nation’s second highest office, Harris, 56, will become the first woman and the first woman of color to be elected vice-president, a reality that shaped her speech and brought tears to the eyes of many women and girls watching from the hoods of their cars that had gathered in the parking lot of a convention center in Wilmington, Delaware.

 

Wearing an all-white pantsuit, in an apparent tribute to the suffragists who fought for a woman’s right to vote, Harris smiled, exultant, as she waved from the podium waiting for the blare of car horns and cheers to subside. Joe Biden, the president-elect, would speak next. But this was a moment all her own.

 

She began her remarks with a tribute to the legacy of the late congressman and civil rights activist John Lewis.

 

“Protecting our democracy takes struggle,” Harris said, speaking from a stage outside the Chase Center on the Riverfront in Wilmington. “It takes sacrifice. But there is joy in it. And there is progress. Because we, the people, have the power to build a better future.”

 

With Harris poised to become the highest-ranking woman in the history of American government, this milestone marks the extraordinary arc of a political career that has broken racial and gender barriers at nearly every turn. As a prosecutor, she rose to become the first Black female attorney general of California. When she was elected to the Senate in 2016, she became only the second Black woman in history to serve in the chamber.

 

In her remarks, Harris paid tribute to the women across the country – and throughout history – who made this moment possible.

 

“I reflect on their struggle, their determination and the strength of their vision, to see what can be, unburdened by what has been,” she said. “I stand on their shoulders.”

 

She specifically honored the contributions of Black women to the struggle for suffrage, equality and civil rights – leaders who are “too often overlooked, but so often prove that they are the backbone of our democracy”.

 

As a candidate for president, Harris spoke often of her childhood spent attending civil rights marches with her parents, who were students at the University of California, Berkeley. When protests erupted in the aftermath of the police killing of George Floyd this summer, Harris joined activists in the streets to demand an end to police brutality and racial injustice.

 

As Biden searched for a running mate, pressure built to choose a Black woman in recognition not only of the role they played in salvaging his presidential campaign – which Biden acknowledged in his remarks on Saturday night – but of their significance to the party as a whole. Yet a narrative began to form that Harris was a somewhat conventional choice, a senator and one-time Democratic rival who brought generational, ideological and racial balance to the Democratic ticket.

 

But Harris disagreed emphatically, saying that her presence on the stage was a testament to “Joe’s character – that he had the audacity to break one of the most substantial barriers that exists in our country and select a woman as his vice-president”.

 

Yet Harris’s presence on the ticket was not only a reflection of the nation’s demographic future but a repudiation of a president who relentlessly scapegoated immigrants and repeatedly attacked women and people of color.

 

In a moment of reflection, Harris invoked her mother, Shyamala Gopalan Harris, who left her home in India for California in 1958, at the age of 19.

 

“Maybe she didn’t quite imagine this moment,” Harris said. “But she believed so deeply in an America where a moment like this is possible.”

 

In interviews and on the campaign trail, Harris often quoted her mother, sharing the advice and admonitions of a woman she describes as diminutive in stature but powerful in her presence.

 

On Saturday, Harris made a promise to the country.

 

“While I may be the first woman in this office,” Harris vowed, “I will not be the last, because every little girl watching tonight sees that this is a country of possibilities.”

Photo: ‘A moment all her own’: Kamala Harris gives an acceptance speech in Delaware. Photograph: Drew Angerer/Getty Images.





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U.S. Christian groups spent $280m fighting LGBT+ rights, abortion overseas

Right-wing U.S. groups have put more than $280 million into campaigns against LGBT+ rights and abortion worldwide since 2007, almost $90 million of which focused on Europe.

 

By Rachel Savage

 

Thomson Reuters Foundation (27.10.2020) – https://bit.ly/326bgSf – Right-wing U.S. groups have put more than $280 million into campaigns against LGBT+ rights and abortion worldwide since 2007, almost $90 million of which focused on Europe, according to a report on Tuesday.

 

Many of the 28 groups – most of which are Christian – have close links with U.S. President Donald Trump, who is campaigning for re-election on Nov. 3, investigative website openDemocracy found, amid the rising popularity of the far-right in Europe.

 

“These findings show how Trump-linked groups have built a frightening global empire,” Mary Fitzgerald, openDemocracy’s editor-in-chief, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in emailed comments.

 

One of the main groups is the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), whose chief counsel Jay Sekulow is Trump’s personal lawyer. It supported a ruling in Poland last week banning abortion in cases of foetal defects, the report said.

 

The ACLJ – shown through its financial records to have spent $18 million globally since 2007, 80% of it in Europe – did not respond to a request for comment.

 

Another major player is the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), whose international arm filed legal briefs against same-sex marriage in Italy and backed a Northern Irish bakery that refused to make a cake with “Support Gay Marriage” on it.

 

It also opposed same-sex adoption in Austria and trans women in France seeking to legally change their gender by submitting arguments in cases at the European Court of Human Rights.

 

“ADF International is a global human rights organisation that protects fundamental freedoms and promotes the inherent dignity of all people,” a spokeswoman for ADF International said in emailed comments.

 

“Rather than engaging with our arguments, OpenDemocracy seeks to shut down debate by launching what is nothing more than a smear campaign.”

 

The openDemocracy investigation highlighted a lack of transparency among U.S. church organisations, which do not have to pay taxes, reveal their funders or how they spend their money overseas.

 

The biggest spender was the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, which poured $96 million into influencing foreign laws and citizens, although its spending is unknown since 2015 when it was reclassified as a church association.

 

Its president Franklin Graham – the son of the U.S. evangelical preacher – has praised the LGBT+ rights record of Russia, where homophobic violence has risen since the adoption in 2013 of a ban on “gay propaganda” towards minors.

 

The association did not respond to a request for comment.

 

Africa was the second most popular destination for anti-LGBT+ efforts. Several of the groups supported the death penalty for gay sex in Uganda, known as the “Kill The Gays” bill, which was overturned by the country’s constitutional court in 2014.

 

“Trump-linked U.S. evangelicals, funded by secret donors, are exporting homophobia around the world,” British LGBT+ activist Peter Tatchell said in emailed comments.

 


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